Only 24% of marketing professionals judge their own content marketing to be ‘effective’ or just 5% say ‘very effective’, the survey of 251 Australian respondents from small, medium-sized and large companies, found.

Marketing managers are also struggling measure the return on investment from content marketing (only 20% say they measure ROI successfully).

Not surprisingly, their bosses are increasingly breathing down their necks. Last year, 15% of survey respondents reported “lack of buy-in from their higher-ups”; this year, that percentage doubled to 32%.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, says the reasons for this are clear: “In my opinion, everyone jumped on content-marketing bandwagon, they created lots of 250-words posts but had no strategy, and saw no success. Now the senior levels are saying, ‘No! You can’t do any more of that. It didn’t work.’ But the marketers didn’t take the right approach.”

For those who have blotted their content-marketing copybook in the past 12 months, it’s going to be tough to rebuild executive trust in content marketing, he says. “Now they have to go back and run a pilot program to start getting some small wins.”

The simple answer – strategy

Having a written strategy is the defining difference between effective and ineffective content marketing programs, the research clearly found: 55% of those who rate themselves effective have a written strategy compared to 13% of those who feel their content marketing is mostly or totally ineffective.

“It seems simple,” Pulizzi says. “Of course you are going to write down your strategy in some way! But we found a lot of marketers have their strategy in their head. It seems like a small thing, but it’s a huge thing. Companies that document their strategy are taking it seriously, saying this approach is important, we want to invest money and time.”

Those who document their strategy:
• Attract more resources (36% of the marketing budget compared to 14%)
• have a dedicated team (54% to 14%), and
• Are more successful at ROI measurement (47% to 9%).

What’s going wrong?

The problem is that content marketing is very new – an immature industry – Pulizzi says (although he’s been in the game for 15 years). “Content marketing old discipline, but very new to most organisations.”

The metrics results of the report reveal the fatal flaw in many content marketing programs.

“By far number one metric content marketers measure is website traffic [60%],” says Pulizzi. “That tells you everything. It is meaningless metric.”

The most important metric – growing subscribers – ranked at the bottom (32%). “It is a little troubling,” he says. “If you look at media companies, their number one goal is growing an audience.”

Sales ranked third on the list of metrics, but Pulizzi says marketers are too focused on sales and leads, and do not place enough value on content marketing as a customer retention strategy.
“I would like to see more organisations look at retention and loyalty goals. Almost all marketers go to the top of the funnel, sales, but the easiest, lower hanging fruit is current customers: how to keep them happier for longer – and buying more.”

The number one challenge

“Producing engaging content” tops the list of challenges for marketers this year. Why?

“Most marketers are really horrible story tellers,” Pulizzi says. “And, in order for content marketing to work, you don’t talk about products and services.” When Pulizzi does a content audit for his clients he typically find over 95% of their content is about their own product and services.

That is not going to work in social search, he says.

However, most organisations, especially business-to-business, have a sales-focused culture.
Pulizzi says organisations need to dump their campaign mentality in relation to content marketing. “Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about building a long-term relationship with customers.”

Microsites and in-person events are growing trends

More companies (54% this year to 48% last) are creating microsites – separate from their corporate website – to house their content. “It makes a lot of sense,” Pulizzi says. “If you look at medium-sized and large companies, IT is overseeing the website, and it takes a lot to get something done. You have to fight all kinds of battles to get a subscriber button in the top right hand corner.” A separate site fosters simplicity and control.

In-person events – conferences, summits, ideas festivals – are much more popular (74% this year to 64% last year). Everyone goes to digital, Pulizzi says. “In-person events are an important part of the content marketing mix.”

CMI will host its own in-person event, Content Marketing Sydney, March 16-18, 2015. To find out more, click here.